Double plus good

14 07 2011

The Interworld has a new challenger! For anyone ‘lucky’ enough to get an invite, Google+ allows you to participate in a stripped-down version of Facebook. The big thing on G+ is circles. Rather than having to painstakingly set individual privacy levels for all your friends on FB, G+ forces you to group people into Venn diagram-like sets, so that you can choose for each post whether this should be shared with ‘family’, ‘friends’, etc.

Facebook - the end of the love affair?

Facebook - the end of the love affair?

To be honest, this feels like a chore. Every time someone adds you, you have to add them back and decide which circle they belong to. Every time you share a post, you must define which circles to share it with. Why not just email the link and have done with it? Besides, the sharing functionality means that anyone a post is shared with can then send this on to their own circles, or even to an email address, so there’s no real security benefit there.

I haven’t yet set up my own circles, again this is because involves too much effort. Do I really have to decide which people should go into ‘ex-partners of friends’, ‘folk I work beside but have no real connection with’, ‘people I’d like to get invites from’, ‘guys who think I’ve accepted them but will never get any posts’, etc? This kind of goes against the whole ‘social’ movement on the web and feels a bit mean.

At the moment all G+ consists of is a limited selection of the people I see on Facebook anyway, but instead of shooting the breeze the majority of posts are about Google+ itself. What am I doing here? Ooh, I got plus-oned! I prefer Facebook. Anyone else like the circles thing?

As you might have gathered from previous posts, I’m not always good at judging the merits of new platforms! I’ll give Google the chance to finetune the interface and wait for registration to open up before I decide whether or not it’s for me. Facebook certainly has its problems, so at the very least this development might force Mark Zuckerberg and co to raise their game. Having said that, if G+ goes the same way as Google Buzz and Google Wave, I won’t be all that surprised.

Census working overtime

31 03 2011

My census was completed last weekend, as instructed. I didn’t put in “Jedi” as my religion, didn’t tell porkies about the number of people in the house and filled every field out to the best of my knowledge. Apart from being an employee of the people who wrote it, there’s simply no point in trying to be sneaky these days. All of our details are out there, on the web, and anyone who tries hard enough could find out a lot more about me than my ethnicity and how many dependant children I have.

The good people at Google and Facebook already know a great deal about everyone who’s ever used their products, and they use this mostly to try and sell us other people’s products. My Facebook account has personalised adverts at the side asking if I’d like to buy a set of drumsticks signed by Larry Mullen Junior, Gmail wants to know if I’d be interested in cheap Glasgow restaurants and a Google search asks me if I’d like to improve my prospects with Linux training. So why is the government spending a small fortune in this age of austerity asking how many rooms we have?

The official census website provides a somewhat unsatisfactory answer: because we need to count people. James Harkins’ article in the New Statesman is a little more thoughtful on the reasoning, but appears unconvinced by the arguments for having one and points out that the more the government wants to know about us, the more resistant we become to telling them.

Perhaps in ten years’ time when the next census is due, the supermarkets, social media providers, banks and search engines will simply gang up together and sell all of our information. Then statisticians, researchers, government agencies and planners could analyse it as they please. It would still be cheaper than the logistical nightmare of conducting a census and the results would be far more useful. So why not just do that?

I think this is the best answer for why we need a census; to stop the above scenario from every occurring. We need to do everything in our power to stop this, as if we allow our public spending plans to be controlled by private companies then we will be failing to meet the needs of society. I’m glad I filled out my census, it was a bit of a pain (especially as it kept crashing Firefox, grrr) but as least I helped keep my status up as a citizen and not just another customer.

Don’t be evil

18 10 2010

Google launched its instant search functionality a couple of months ago, causing the predictable flurry of hype and type. The search engine behemoths claim that this new feature can search faster than you can type, thus “Google’s just saved nearly 350 million man hours.”

In addition to saving these vital seconds you might otherwise have wasted by pausing for breath, Google also saves you the trouble of deciding what you wanted to search for in the first place, with its new “mind-reading” algorithm. I tried testing this with a few choice phrases and here are the results…

“Is it OK to” suggests that Google thinks I am worried about getting pregnant, going to Greece, getting food poisoning or what to wear at a wedding. None of these are correct, although if all 4 scenarios were to present themselves at the same time I’d have a lot more to ask Google about.

“Should I worry about” brings up a few more interesting results. “…a mole” and “…nuclear power” were the top 2 results but, somewhat alarmingly, “Should I worry about Richard Hammond” was the third suggested query! I have never previously worried much about the Top Gear presenter, but I’ve found him preying on my mind since this experiment.

Let’s move on from information anxiety and try something a bit more philosophical. “I think” concludes with “…therefore I am” as the top result, but the top ten also included “…we’re alone now”, “…I’m pregnant” and “I love my wife.”  Hmm.

To maximise vagueness, I tried typing in “Is” only to find Google alarmingly behind the times and concerned over the mortality of fictional soap characters. “Is Denise dead?”, “Is Denise Dead in Eastenders?” and “Is Denise really dead?” all popped up, alongside “Is it Thursday?” and “Is Lady Gaga a man?”

I’m not sure how any of these auto-completed searches are supposed to save me any time. More importantly, this process works against the user’s mind model of a website should operate and as such appears to be designed more as a money-spinner for Google (think of how much Orange would be prepared to jump above O2 in the auto-complete hierarchy for their initial letters) than as a genuine attempt to improve the user search experience.